İncirlik row may raise questions on Turkey’s NATO role

İncirlik row may raise questions on Turkey’s NATO role

In this part of the world many things happen with no easy answers and no resolutions. 

On June 5, powerful Arab nations under the leadership of Saudi Arabia imposed harsh sanctions on Qatar, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, on the grounds that it is the main sponsor of radical ideologies, a supporter of terror groups aiming at destabilizing neighboring countries, is a supporter of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. 

Also on June 5, Turkey said “no” to German lawmakers who wanted to visit their troops at the İncirlik air base, on the grounds that Berlin has over the past few months opened its doors to fleeing Turkish coup plotters. 

Again on the same day, as the spokesperson of the Syrian Democratic Forces, (SDF) - an umbrella group mainly composed of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – announced, a long-awaited operation to recapture Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had begun.

One way or another, all these developments are related to each other, which makes the picture even more complicated and puzzled. Let me single out for consideration just one of the important issues: The ongoing İncirlik crisis between Ankara and Berlin. 

Germany deployed six Tornado surveillance aircrafts and around 250 troops to Turkey in January 2016 in order to contribute to the anti-ISIL fight carried out by the 65-member international coalition. According to the German constitution, the German army is subordinate to the German Parliament and its activities are under strict control of elected lawmakers. The German Parliament’s Defense Committee therefore pays regular visits to foreign bases where German troops are stationed. 

The first crisis between Turkey and Germany over a request to visit the base took place in mid-2016 after the Bundestag approved a resolution recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire as genocide. Turkey blocked a visit to the base in reaction to this move and the issue could only be resolved after a meeting between President Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during G20 Summit in China in the fall. 

‘Germany as FETÖ hub’ 

This time, the situation is graver. Turkey accuses Germany of granting asylum to hundreds of Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) members allegedly linked with the July 2016 coup attempt. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım once described Germany as the “hub” of the FETÖ organization in Europe, from where it is conducting “anti-Turkey activities.”

Germany’s inefficiency in stopping the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on its soil, as Foreign Minister Gabriel has also acknowledged, puts additional hurdles in front of building trustworthy ties between Ankara and Berlin. 

To top it all, tension between the two countries before Turkey’s April 16 referendum, when Germany shut its doors to Turkish government members who wanted to campaign for nearly three million Turks living in the country, has shaken the foundation of bilateral relations. Some Turkish leaders accused Germany of supporting opposition parties and of openly campaigning for “No” in the referendum. 

This is this picture that led Gabriel to say that the removal of troops is just a part of disagreements between the two countries. 

There is no doubt that both countries need to be much more sincere and willing to mend ties, and that Germany should be more efficient and cooperative in the anti-terror struggle. However, there are many other things that Turkey should also do if it wants to enjoy normal relations with its allies. 

What about US troops?

In an age where terror is the number one enemy of humanity and where the fight against terror comes at the top of the agenda of all countries and international organizations, utmost attention should be paid to keeping security partnerships and alliances unaffected by troubled bilateral tensions. 

Otherwise, one could reasonably ask why Turkey still allows the presence of United States troops and aircrafts at the İncirlik base despite the fact that Washington has remained indifferent to Turkey’s request for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the mastermind of the coup attempt and top terrorist for Turkey, and despite the fact the U.S. is providing weapons to the YPG, a terror organization with undeniable links to the PKK, despite insistent Turkish warnings.   

It should also be noted that Germany’s moving out of the Turkish military base, for relocation in a non-NATO country, will be assessed and analyzed with regard to Turkey’s commitments to the world’s most important military alliance.